What contribute…

What contributes to this misconception (that the Internet is chaotic rather than highly controlled), I suggest, is that protocol is based on a contradiction between two opposing machines: One machine radically distributes control into autonomous locales, the other machine focuses control into rigidly defined hierarchies. The tension between these two machines—a dialectical tension—creates a hospitable climate for protocological control.

Alexander Galloway, Protocol (MIT: 2004): p.8.

I like this quote very much, because it articulates the structure of control not just of the distributed network of the internets but also of the early modern Spanish empire. Which is to say, Spain’s empire exercised long term control over its territories in the Americas (and Asia) without a standing army through the mediation of the judicial protocol. Judicial protocols mediated contending claims to centralization and decentralization, of the king’s authority and local custom; of jurisdictional hierarchy and jurisdictional flexibility/conflict; of legal predation and legal protection. The ambiguities of this judicial mediation likewise created “a hospitable climate for protocological control.”

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getting started with github and prose.io

This is a cross-posted piece from the blog for my Digital History seminar. While I wrote it specifically for my students in that class, I figure it might have slightly larger appeal to other professors out there considering using GitHub with a digital history or digital humanities class. It covers how to get up and running with the combination of github and prose.io as the framework for a collaborative course blog.

Up and running

As we discussed during our first meeting, participation on the class blog will be a key component of our learning process. It will extend our discussions before and after class, and provide a platform for much of the important writing and critique that we will do together. In this post, I will provide the promised mini-tutorial on getting up and running on the class blog. But, I would also like to write a bit about the systems that form the foundation for the site. So, first up will be a step-by-step guide for getting GitHub and prose.io up and running, followed by some further discussion of jekyll, git, and HTML and Internet technologies.


Our course site this semester is built on a set of free and open source technologies that evolved in response to the culture of open source software development over the course of the past few years. First and foremost among these is GitHub. As the company explains of itself,

GitHub is the best place to share code with friends, co-workers, classmates, and complete strangers.

We won’t exactly be sharing code (though I hope by the end of the semester, a few of you will be). Instead, we’ll be sharing our explorations of digital histories. Github still works really well for this, because our entire course site is built using GitHub Pages.

Each of you will need a GitHub account in order to access the front end for writing our blog posts. This is as simple as signing up for any other web service.

Step 1.

Sign up for a GitHub account. There, that was simple.


Ok, it’s only slightly more complicated than that. Two things to think about– what do you want your github identity to be and what do we do about passwords? You may make your ID whatever you’d like as long as your classmates know who you are. The ID name is important, because it is what you will use for the author info on your posts. Passwords are more difficult. If you use a password that is robust (ie, long and made up of a variety of types of characters, ie alphanumerics and symbols), it will be hard to remember. If you use a password that is easy to remember it likely won’t be very robust. Might I suggest you consider using a password manager to generate passwords for you? If not, then at the very least do not use the same password for all of your accounts– email, bank, gmail, github, etc. Doing that makes you more vulnerable. Onwrad, though.

Step 2.

Email me your GitHub username, so that I can add it as a collaborator on the course site repo. That’s even easier, assuming you have my email address. You do, don’t you? It’s up top over there.


Once you have been added as a collaborator to the course repo, it will show up as one of your own repositories on your Github home page. With that, you could clone the repository onto your local machine, write your posts there, and push them back to the repository. I’m guessing that you didn’t understand pretty much anything that I just wrote there, though. So, to make all of this easier on you, we are going to use a web editing interface provided through a service called Prose.io. To use prose, do the following.

Step 1:

Make sure that you are logged in to your github account.

Step 2:

Navigate your browser to http://prose.io. On the landing page, click on the “Authorize on Github” button.


Step 3

Once you’ve authenticated, you will see a list of repos on your account. Unless you’ve gone ahead and created your own repos, the only one will be history580.github.io. Click on the repo, and you’ll find yourself in the _posts folder, with access to all the previous posts written for the site and the ability to create new ones.

prose folder

Click on the green button to create a new post.

Writing with Markdown

Prose.io was created by the web development team behind the government’s new healthcare.gov site, which provides a portal to resources and the exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act. It is intended to be a web editor that provides an easy place to write text snippets that will be inserted into web page templates. Thankfully, it does not require you to write raw HTML, but rather uses a simple language syntax known as Markdown. Markdown was created by John Gruber with the intention of making it easier to write content for the web, and it has been an almost unbelievable success. There are now many favors of Markdown in the wild, but all of them share some basic syntax originally defined by Gruber. This syntax allows you to write in plain text, but signal to a processor how the text should be transformed into more semantically rich HTML. The syntax is not complicated, but does require a little bit of a learning curve. With it, you will be able to make links, embed images, write footnotes, use block quotes, produce ordered and unordered lists, and clearly define code snippets.

You can find Gruber’s original documentation on Markdown here.

I’m also writing a complete list of options for our version of Markdown here. Once it’s done, you can simply print it out as a cheat sheet.

There is also help from within prose.io by clicking on the ?.

Back to creation

After clicking on the new button, you may enter your markdown-flavored text into the editor directly, or paste it in from a plain text file you wrote on your computer. If you go this route, it’s important to use a text editor and not Word.

Note too that you can click on Edit to revisit a post, or the trash can to delete it.

In any case, there are three last steps to publishing your post.

  • Enter a title. Click on the lightly-shaded word Untitled and give your post a title. It should be descriptive of the content. Please don’t go the lazy route of naming your post something like “Post 1” or “Print Proposal”.

  • Click on the metadata button on the right side of the screen. This will bring up a dialogue box. Fill your github username in as the author of the post. This is the name that will show up on our homepage listing of new posts, and also on the post itself.

meta button

meta box

There are other metadata possibilities for that can be entered in the box, but we can leave that discussion till later.

  • Save your changes. Really, what you’re doing in saving is committing your changes to the repository, which is tracking every change made to the files on which the site is built. Each commit produces a new state. Make sure to enter a short message into the commit box documenting the changes that you made. If you don’t enter anything, prose.io provides some boilerplate that will be recorded.

commit dialogue

Note that the metadata that I’ve set to automatically generate, along with the metadata that you’ve entered, shows up appended to the top of your post between a set of triple dashes.

layout: post
published: true
title: your title
author: your name

That information helps jekyll create the site by setting important variables and choosing the appropriate template to put the new html into.

How it works

I was going to end this post with a bit on the architecture of this site, and how it works so that you understand how our site is made. Instead, I think I’ll encourage you to do two things:

  1. Right click on this page and choose ‘View Source’ and take some time to look at the html. Where did the content I wrote for this post get inserted? Where did the rest of the information come from? What does it do?

  2. Take some time to poke around the files on the course site repo, available to you through github, and see if you can intuit/figure out what each of them are doing. What do the various folders do? See what you can figure out. The jekyll documentation might be a good source.

Looking forward to your own first posts.

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Posted in Uncategorized

breaking bad and the cancer of neoliberalism

People certainly have written too much about Breaking Bad. And, no I don’t ever write about these kinds of things on this blog.

But Breaking Bad holds a dear place in my Albuquerque-missing heart.

Our house in Albuquerque was scouted as a possible location for Ted Beneke’s fall, but we missed out on that brush with fame. A fair bit of Season Five was filmed at the end of our street.

It’s not just proximity to the show, though. For me Vince Gilligan and the show’s production has shown Albuquerque and New Mexico as a place of beauty. For the landscapes involved, meth production and distribution are distractions to beauty and perseverance. The skies. The wind. The browns. And the saturating light.

I moved to Albuquerque in 1997 for graduate school. I chose UNM for what, by the standards of advice I give to students now, were very wrong reasons. Northern New Mexico reminded me of parts of Ecuador’s Andes. I wanted to be near that. In one of the first weekly issues published after I moved of Albuquerque’s weekly paper, the Alibi ran the results of a contest for a new nickname for the Duke City. I don’t remember what won, but runner ups included “Stripmallbuquerque” and “Shit Hole.” I laughed, but quickly came to see something else. I always liken Albuquerque to a dandelion growing through a crack in a worn piece of pavement. One can look at that and see failing infrastructure and weeds. Or, one can see perseverance and beauty in a stark landscape. That’s how I saw Albuquerque.

And that’s what Albuquerque does for a dark show set in a land of drenching sun.

So, I’m going to write about Breaking Bad a bit as the final season comes to a close, and probably in conversation with the show that has marked perception of my new city, Baltimore’s The Wire.

At the start of this final half season, one of the things strikes me most about the arc of Breaking Bad is the relationship between Walt’s cancer and involvement in the drug trade. Walt’s relationship to cancer is an inverse of his relationship to meth. Meth is a social and familial cancer, and it destroys everything around him. But it doesn’t destroy him. When he’s cooking he’s healthier, as if the act or decision itself is what staves off death. And, when he leaves the business, his cancer returns. The system he finds himself in is either one of corporeal decay or social decay. And, in both cases those processes are moderated by markets (one regulated, the other not).

In the beginning of the show, Walt was compelled to enter the drug trade in search of cash– to protect his family and to fund the exorbitant costs of cancer treatment. He becomes a knowledge worker in the unregulated, neoliberal market of illicit drugs in order to survive the regulated pharmaceutical cancer economy, at least long enough to do for his family what he believes needs to be done.

This decision, which sparks the emergence of Heisenberg, shifts Walt’s existence from one in which property rights (including the intellectual property rights of his wildly successful former friend and business partner) mask the social and personal violence of markets to one in which the reality of that violence is laid bare. As Walt embraces that violence, he gets relief from the compulsion of the licit pharmaceutical market and the cancer goes into abeyance. And yet, Walt has to embrace that violence to escape a repetition of the alienation of his labor that put him in a high school classroom in the first place. And so he rises as an antihero, who uses the violence-laid-bare of neoliberal markets to overcome alienation. It’s ugly, but its the underlying truth of neoliberalism everywhere. The cancer that symbolized his alienation is shifted to damaging, parasitic amorality at a social and familial level because that is what neoliberal markets do.

Some complain that, like Mad Men of late, there are no likable characters in Breaking Bad. And, maybe, as with Mad Men, that needs to be, because what the meth trade does is to show markets in their true colors, bathed in gorgeous light and framed by unending blue skies of expansive possibility.

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forget the MOOA, how about admin by algorithm

Benjamin Ginsberg has made the completely reasonable suggestion that we forget the MOOC, and instead turn to Massively Open Online Administrations (MOOA). After all, administrative positions (and costs) have far outpaced growth in full time faculty positions, and all those administrators are facing the same issues with the same set of neo-liberal presuppositions. I like it.

But it got me thinking.

Why entrust to even a single group of administrators decision-making ability for hundreds of campuses? We can engage in a little creative destruction in the interest of leveraging the efficiency gains of an algorithmic approach to administrative decision making. No need for any humans to be involved at all. Netflix, eHarmony, Amazon and the rest of our technological overlords have already showed us the magical future of “the algorithm.” Sure, Siva Vaidhyanathan has warned us about such googlization. But, in the case of university administration, I can’t see how much more harm could be done by automation.

So, let’s design this algorithm.

Here’s a start:

adminHealth = 0
Policies = [policy1, policy2, policy3, policy4]

def policyChange(policy):
    x = policy()
    if x == helpsFaculty:
        return adminHealth -= 1
    elif x == helpsStudents:
        return adminhealth -= 1
    elif x == helpsAthleticDepart:
        return adminhealth += 3
        return adminHealth += 5 

while adminHealth <= 1000000:
    for policy in Policies:

Please, add some new functions so we can get this algorithm right. That way, we can dismantle the university much quicker, and the denizens of the algorithmic future can feel good about themselves as they save us all from the inefficiencies of, you know, values, morals, leisure, depth, thought, consideration, and all the rest.

Posted in Uncategorized

edit DEVONthink records in terminal vim

I’m in the midst of planning my Fall seminar, which happens to be a course titled “Digital History in Theory and Practice.” Given the large number of online resources I’m using in the process, I’ve been drawn back to DEVONthink, which it’s nice Chrome plugin for saving pdf or webarchive records straight from the browser.

I’m doing a lot of reading as well, and taking notes. It’s been a while since I spent a lot of time in DEVONthink, and in the interim I’ve been completely converted to vim and markdown. I very much like taking notes in vim, leveraging the pandoc vim plugin and its tab completion of bibtex citations. The thing is, for some reason I much prefer vim in the terminal to MacVim. I don’t know exactly why, though I suspect its because vim in the terminal is much more integrated into the programming workflow I’ve been using the past year.

It’s very easy to open a DEVONthink record in an external editor. I take all my notes in DEVONthink as plain text notes, part of a commitment I made a couple of years ago to using plain text whenever possible. MacVim is the default editor for .txt files on my machine. In DEVONthink, you can open any file in your database with the system default application either by clicking a toolbar icon or using the keyboard shortcut SHIFT-CMD-O. But, what about terminal vim? A little more complicated.

So, I cobbled together a Automator application from posts here, here, and here that opens a highlighted record from DEVONthink in vim in a new tab in the terminal.

For my own documentation, and maybe to help you out, here’s how it works (click on the images to make them larger):

  1. Open Automator and select a new application.
  2. From the Automator script library, first drag over the DEVONthink action Get Selected Records.
  3. Next, drag over the DEVONthink action Get Item from Records.


  4. Go to this page and down load the file Get File Path, which is an Automator action to get the full file path of any file.

    Once you file is downloaded, double click on it to install it in your Automator library. Then, drag into fourth place on the workflow.


  5. Now it’s time from some Applescript. Once we have the file path, we pipe it to a script that opens a new terminal tab, and then opens the file in vim. So, drag a Run Applescript action to the workflow and enter this code:

    on run {input}
    	set the_path to POSIX path of input
    	set cmd to "vim " & quoted form of the_path
    	tell application "Terminal"
    	end tell
    	tell application "System Events" to tell process "Terminal" to keystroke "t" using command down
    	tell application "Terminal"
    		delay 0.25
    		do script with command cmd in front window
    	end tell
    end run


  6. Save the file in ~/Library/Application Support/DEVONthink Pro 2/Scripts. Name it something that makes sense, like OpenInVim.

That’s it. Now, you can select that from the scripts icon off the topbar. Or better yet, set an application-specific keyboard shortcut, which you can do in the Keyboard section of the System Preferences. I set mine to OPTION-CMD-o, so as not to clash with DT’s open-in-external-application shortcut.

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Posted in Apps for Research, Research and Writing

coursera contract with the university of tennessee system

Following last week’s announcements of new contracts between Coursera and a whole host of public institutions (coverage at IHE, CHE, NYTimes), I requested a copy of the contract signed between the UT System and the online MOOC provider. Tennessee has a public records act, which I mentioned in the email asking to see the contract. When I opened my email this morning, there it was. (Thank goodness for sunshine laws and the temporary good sense behind them.)

I have only skimmed it thus far, but I’m putting it up here for others to read. I’ll come back with more of my thoughts on the contract once I’ve had a chance to read it more closely.

A couple of notes of explanation:

  1. The contract reveals the extent to which Coursera is looking for new opportunities to leverage its Platform (videos with embedded quizzes and a discussion forum — is that really a platform?). This contract is quite different, at least in the stated goals of the System, from others we’ve seen, like the one signed by the University of Kentucky system.

  2. This contract was signed by the University of Tennessee system, which includes five campuses: UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, the UT Space Institute (Tullahoma), UT Health Science Center (Memphis), and UT Knoxville. The UT System is governed by a Board of Trustees. There is a second system in the state called the Board of Regents system, which includes campuses like East Tennessee State University. The Board of Regents system has also signed a contract with Coursera, though I don’t know how much it differs from this one.

  3. The contract covers an 18-month period during which UT will evaluate Coursera’s platform as an alternative to its current online course technology provider (which I believe is Blackboard Connect). Thus, we’re talking about implementing two courses with multiple sections across campuses. I have a problem with that from the start house. Speaking of which, my favorite quote thus far…

The Platform will support cross-institutional simultaneous enrollment at Institution in a single-class instance to allow for the creation of larger cohorts.

So, without further ado, here it is: Coursera Contract

Please leave any thoughts in the comments below, or on twitter, where I am @parezcoydigo.

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Posted in Teaching

choose your own conquest!

I taught a miniterm class over the last three weeks on the Spanish Conquest of the Americas. We met for roughly 2:30-3:00 per day, which posed its own set of challenges. Reading expectations were lowered with this schedule. And, I certainly wasn’t going to lecture for most of that time every day of the week. So, we balanced lecture and discussion with analyzing portrayals of Spanish imperialism in feature and documentary film.

For a final project, I gave the students the option of writing a paper on three films, critiquing the films using Matt Restall’s Seven Myth. I also gave them the option of forming small groups to put together a choose-your-own-adventure text game on some aspect of the conquest. An intrepid few chose the latter, mostly because they were fatigued by the notion of writing papers. Given the short time span, I was particularly impressed with a couple of the games.

We used Twine to write the stories. Twine is nice because it is multiplatform, and uses simple wiki syntax to construct the story. That’s because Twine is essentially a wrapper around TidlyWiki. It’s intuitive, and easy to work with, as long as you remember to name the first entry “Start”.

The students essentially turned the classic document collection Victors and Vanquished into text games, and conveniently one group chose the Spanish perspective and the other chose the Mexica. Click through those links to see the finished products.

One note on doing this– the process of writing such a story lends itself to reproducing the myth of exceptional men, in which individual decisions and actions are preeminent in making the conquest. We talked so much about that, though, that the groups noted it when they presented their work today.

At any rate, as a short order experiment over just a few weeks of class (15 class days!), I think it was successful. I’ll definitely do it again.

Posted in Digital History, Latin American History, Teaching

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.